Searching for the Best Bank: 8 Factors to Consider

Barbara Marquand | guest writer for GoTalkMoney

With all the news of bank failures, mergers, and the launching of new online institutions in the last few years, it's tough to know which way to turn when choosing where to do your financial business.

No single institution is right for every customer; the best bank for you depends on your needs. Your choices boil down to three main categories -- large, national banks; smaller regional banks or credit unions; and Internet banks. Which is right for you? Here are eight key factors to consider:

1. FDIC Insurance

Virtually all banks are FDI- insured, which means your deposits are safe up to $250,000 per financial institution. Beware that the limit is scheduled to go down to $100,000 on Jan. 1, 2014, except for certain retirement accounts. Credit union deposits are federally-insured at the same levels by the National Credit Union Administration. As we've seen in the last couple of years, banks and credit unions can fail, so make sure you stay within the limits.

2. Products

What products do you need? Are you looking for a place to build savings or get a loan or both? Big banks offer the advantage of a wide scope of products, but if all you're looking for is a place to park your emergency savings, then an Internet bank that offers top-notch rates might be a better choice.

3. Savings Rates

Compare savings rates on the products that interest you to get the biggest bang for your bucks. Search online for the best rates for CDs, savings accounts, and money market accounts.

4. Best Bank Relationship

What kind of relationship are you looking for from a bank? If you like doing business at a branch where everyone knows your name, a community bank or credit union is your best bet. But if you haven't visited a branch in years and conduct all your business on your computer or at the ATM, consider an online bank that offers better savings rates than your brick-and-mortar institution.

5. Access to your Money

How easy is it to access your money? With some online banks, you have to snail-mail checks for deposits. Make sure the ATM network features enough machines convenient to your location. If you travel a lot, look for a bank that will give you easy access to your money on the road.

6. Best Bank Technology

How much of a techie are you? Most institutions let you do online banking, but not all of them employ the latest technologies. USAA Bank was the first to launch a service that lets consumers deposit checks by cell phone. Using an application for the iPhone or Android, customers can snap pictures of the front and back of checks with their cell phone cameras and transmit the images to the bank. Some other banks, including Chase, Citibank and Bank of America, are following suit, but not all banks will boast this and other upcoming high-tech capabilities.

7. Fees

Why pay fees when you don't have to? Read bank reviews and the fine print of account disclosures to learn what fees you'd have to pay for services. Also, understand the requirements for the accounts you're considering, such as money market, savings, and checking accounts.

8. Customer Service

Great rates don't make up for poor customer service. Is it easy to get in touch with a real, live human being when you need to, or do you get lost in a voice mail maze when you call the customer service number? If face-to-face personal interaction is important, visit the branch and watch how employees interact with customers. How long does it take for someone to greet you?

Choosing a bank isn't a snap, but with today's wide variety of options you have a good shot at finding an institution that meets your needs. You can bank on it.

Disclaimer:This content is not provided or commissioned by American Express. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of American Express, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express. This site may be compensated through American Express Affiliate Program.

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